July 14, 2011 11:05 pm

Another dimension for 3D

Inviting some friends round this month to watch my 3D videos, I felt like I’d become my father.

It took me straight back to his slide projector days in the early 1970s. A silver-coated screen was erected on shaky metal struts at the end of the living room, with the projector mounted on a stool and a pile of books at the other end. In between, children and parents made shadow rabbits on the screen as my dad tried to unjam the carousel tray packed with cardboard-framed celluloid that had preserved the highlights of our holidays with friends in Cornwall.

Compared with the alternative of holding up the darkened translucent squares to the light, this new technology always impressed – the crystal-clear capturing of childhood was illuminated larger than life with each mechanical ratchet of the machine and stayed long in the memory. There were sniggers at the upside-down and backwards slides and frequent blanks, before boredom set in during the second tray where hobbyism began to triumph over holidays.

Perhaps 3D is the modern equivalent. Armed with a Sony Bloggie 3D camera rather than my father’s old Pentax and a Sony 3D television almost as thin as that flimsy screen, I have been trying out the practicalities of recording and showing 3D, as opposed to the established practice of using this extra dimension to watch films and play games.

I made my debut with the camera at an evening bar mitzvah for Alex, one of my son’s friends.

Using the Bloggie’s 2.5in rear LCD screen, which gives a glasses-free 3D effect, as the viewfinder and monitor, I took digital stills of the festivities and then pressed the record button to capture some traditional dancing in ever-decreasing circles, which was lent an impressive degree of depth by the dual camera lenses on the front of the device.

“Look!” I shouted to Alex’s father as he passed by, “I’m filming this in 3D.”

Sony Bravia XBR-55HX929

Pros: Superb black levels and contrast; excellent 3D performance; comprehensive ‘smart TV’ internet services, with built-in WiFi; auto-detection and adjustment for 3D content on the Bloggie.
Cons: 3D glasses are a little bulky and uncomfortable in their rigidity; there is a thickish frame to the TV, compared with the edge-to-edge screen of the Samsung D7000 reviewed earlier; it is also not the thinnest LED television and the internet TV interface is cluttered; expensive.
Price: $3,800 (the similar UK model is the KDL-55HX923 and costs £3,000)

“That’s amazing,” he said unconvincingly, squinting at the small screen and then giving me a “You’re no James Cameron” look. “You have to see it on a 3D TV to get the full effect,” I said defensively. “I don’t have one,” he replied, dancing on.

Thus, in such small ways, Sony is making us all more sociable – perhaps leading to a revival of the 1970s fondue party? – as we invite friends and neighbours living in 2D televisual worlds to share our 3D recordings coupled with our newfangled TVs.

This may also have the welcome side-effect for Sony of helping it shift more sets. Indeed, its focus on do-it-yourself 3D at the Consumer Electronics Show in Las Vegas in January seems inspired to me now. It announced five point-and-shoot cameras with 3D modes at CES and two dual-lens camcorders – the Bloggie and a more professional Handycam.

Sony has gone all-in on 3D and is unique among consumer electronics companies in offering it from creation to transmission, whether it be in these personal devices or through movies made by Sony Pictures, games from Sony Computer Entertainment or 3D sporting events relayed through Sony’s professional cameras.

This should help persuade me and those impressed by my 3D home movies to splash out nearly $4,000 on a top-of-the-range television set such as the XBR-HX929 that Sony loaned me.

Sony 3D Bloggie HD

Pros: Sony’s simple, inexpensive 3D video and stills camera is capable of beautiful 5Mp stills in 2D and 3D; great depth in its layered 3D effect in photos and full HD videos; easy HDMI connection to 3D televisions; USB connector for PC; small and light (4oz/120g); glasses-free 3D LCD display; good microphones but susceptible to wind noise; LED light.

Cons: Easy to mistake the on/off button for the adjacent shutter button; fixed 8Gb internal memory – no additional memory card slot; no optical zoom; no digital zoom when in 3D mode; Bloggie software has limited information, controls and editing; 3D files are large; 3D effect is spoiled if any elements are out of focus; small screen.
Price: $250, £220

But first 3D needs to get less complicated. For example, I used software that came with the Bloggie and installed on my PC to upload a 3D video clip to YouTube. I found the interface a little unhelpful. It was hard to see file names, the only editing of the clip I could do was to shorten the beginning and end, and there were no settings for the upload or details of its progress, so it turned up on YouTube as a public file, when I had wanted it to be private.

I couldn’t view it in 3D on my PC when I had uploaded it, even wearing the special glasses borrowed from the TV set. This was despite YouTube going out if its way to help on this. There are several different 3D settings – for red/cyan, green/magenta and blue/yellow coloured glasses (but cinema glasses will not work) as well as interleaved rows, columns, chequerboards, side-by-side and HTML5 stereo modes if you are watching on a 3D television or monitor.

But if none of the above works, here’s where YouTube gets a bit ridiculous with its suggestions. I’ll quote from just one – the “cross-eyed” method: “Two images will be displayed side by side. Cross your eyes until your right eye is looking at the left image, and the left eye is looking at the right image. Two white dots are placed above the images to make this simpler: cross your eyes until you see three dots above the video. It may take a few tries before you finally master this technique. This method can cause headaches for some people.”

Are you serious YouTube? Apparently so.

Anyway, to spare any of my friends becoming permanently cross-eyed trying to view my shared videos, I have now perfected the simpler method of showing it on the television set. Plugging in the Bloggie using an HDMI cable was easy and the TV detected 3D content and displayed it perfectly once the required glasses were donned.

Displayed on the 55in screen, I was very impressed with the high-definition quality of the stills I took using the alternative 2D mode on the Bloggie and some of the layered depth achievable in 3D was outstanding. There was also a neat effect of feeling you could walk around in the picture if you moved from side to side and saw the scene shift a little.

One drawback I noticed, though, was that any element of the picture shot out of focus protruded in a disconcerting blur that ruined the effect.

This didn’t happen with the video I shot and footage of whirling bar mitzvah dances and a day at a beach that stretched out in dunes to the horizon did finally justify all the 3D hassle, bringing back moments more vividly and realistically than those seaside slide shows of yesteryear.

chris.nuttall@ft.com

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